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Week 7 Pawns and Black Swans

Dennis Skley (flickr) []

In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Week 6, if you missed it.) “What are pawns and a black swans?” you ask.

A pawn is a piece in chess that is often sacrificed to set up a bigger move. In this segment, it’s not the player who scored the touchdown, but the one who made the key block to spring the play, or the receiver who ran a brilliant route to pull coverage away from his teammates. 

Literally speaking, a black swan is a bird that is colored mostly black; metaphorically speaking, it’s an unforeseen event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost his team.

Week 7 Pawns

Sure, Landon Collins and A.J. Green made incredible, game-changing plays in Week 7, but they’re getting love from the rest of the media. I haven’t seen any of the following trio being honored for their heroics.

Clay Harbor, Tight End, Lions

Last week it was Anquan Boldin getting noticed for making a game-changing block to free up a teammate; now it’s Boldin benefiting from the unselfish play of his teammate. (I can only assume this was a result of Boldin’s heroics being celebrated on FY.)

If you’ve never heard someone get lauded for running a beautiful drag route, you’re probably not alone. But there’s a first for everything, right? So Mr. Harbor, here is your moment.

With Eric Ebron missing due to knee and ankle issues, the Lions picked up Clay Harbor, who was released by the Pats after Week 4. Harbor may not be making highlight reel catches (just three receptions for 19 yards in three games), but he’s certainly helping Detroit elsewhere.

In Week 7, Harbor recorded two receptions for 16 yards. Neither of those plays were anything spectacular; it was the aforementioned drag route he ran on the Lions’ game-winning touchdown that I noticed. It was third-and-ten with 22 seconds left to play, and the Lions were down 17-13. Matthew Stafford took the snap from the gun with three receivers to his left, a tailback to his right, and Harbor lined up at tight end on the right side. Washington would drop eight into coverage, and appeared to have all the receivers covered. That is, until Clay Harbor came screaming across the field.

Harbor perfectly pulled Washington linebacker Will Compton out of his hook zone, which opened up a small window for Stafford to fit a ball into Anquan Boldin for the game-winning touchdown, a touchdown which would not have materialized had Harbor not run his flawlessly timed route at the ideal depth and speed. Well done, Clay.

I wonder which Lions pass catcher it’ll be next week.

Jeremy Maclin, Wide Receiver, Chiefs

Entering Week 7, the Chiefs top wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, was averaging a measly 58.6 receiving yards per game and had only found the endzone once. He may not have broken out on the stat sheet against the Saints on Sunday (four receptions for 40 yards), but he did make one of the plays of the game.

With 2:33 left in the fourth quarter, the Saints scored a touchdown to get within three and then lined up to attempt an onside kick. Maclin was the player positioned behind the Kansas City wall; the duty of that player is to recover the football and not let the six gargantuans sprinting at him hinder his mindset. Wil Lutz put down a textbook kick, getting a big hop right around the numbers. Saints tight end Coby Fleener appeared to be in perfect position to recover the ball as it came back to the turf, but Maclin ensured that didn’t happen.

Maclin elevated, exposing his midsection by reaching up with one hand, in order to make a play on the ball. He quickly realized that he was not going to be able to pull the ball in and had the wherewithal to tip it up even higher, ensuring it would land out of bounds. Chiefs ball.

Not only did Maclin put his body on the line for his team, but he also displayed a great deal of awareness and a high football IQ. Without this play, New Orleans would have recovered the onside kick and Drew Brees would have at least tied the game. So next time you want to crap on Maclin for not producing on your fantasy team, remember this. (You should still bench him on your fantasy team, though.)

Damion Square, Defensive Tackle, Chargers

By Jeffrey Beall (Wikimedia Commons)
By Jeffrey Beall (Wikimedia Commons)

Thanks to a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Square was forced to miss the first four games of the 2016 season. When the suspension ended, the Chargers defensive tackle spent an entire week working with the coaching staff to prepare for his return. He didn’t make the active roster for Week 5 but has been active for the last two games, and rewarded his coach’s decision with the biggest play of the game in San Diego’s 33-30 OT win over Atlanta.

While Denzel Perryman is getting all the credit for shooting the gap and stuffing Devonta Freeman on 4th-and-1 from Atlanta’s own 45 yard line in overtime, he wouldn’t have had that gap if not for Square.

Under Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons employ a zone blocking scheme where footwork, timing, athleticism, and communication are crucial traits for the offensive line. On this fourth down play, Atlanta ran a stretch to the left (all the linemen try to reach the defender immediately to their left and drive them in that direction).

However, that’s not how the play went for Falcons left guard Andy Levitre. Damion Square was lined up in a 3-technique on Levitre’s side, Kyle Emanuel was in a 9-technique outside of the tight end, and nose tackle Brandon Mebane was directly over the center in a 0-technique. What this means is that Levitre was on his own to handle Square; the left tackle (Jake Matthews) would be responsible for climbing to the linebacker.

As the ball was snapped, Levitre engaged Square but could not get any push. Instead, Square got his hands on Levitre and pulled him back towards his own center. This resulted in a massive hole opening up between the left guard and left tackle. Perryman took full advantage, knifing through to make the tackle in the backfield.

Had Levitre been able to push Square to his left, not only would Perryman had no gap to slash, but Jake Matthews would have likely been able to climb to him and give Freeman a lane. But, thanks to Square, the Chargers took over on downs in Atlanta territory, and would win the game on the very next drive. Generally, fat guys only get attention when they score, but here at FY, they get kudos for unsung acts like this. Here’s to you, Damion.

Week 7 Black Swans

As much as I wanted to call out the Vikings’ offensive line this week, Mike Zimmer has beaten me to it. The following players weren’t publicly scrutinized by their coaches, so I’ll take the liberty of doing so.

Titans Offensive Line

Let’s start here: the Colts had tallied eight sacks in their first six games, which was the second-fewest entering Week 7. Outside of linebacker Erik Walden, Indianapolis really doesn’t have any pass rushers who strike fear into opposing offenses. (Robert Mathis is no longer the same player, hate to break it to you.) However, the Colts found a way to get to Marcus Mariota three times on Sunday.

Two of those sacks were recorded by right tackle Jack Conklin’s blocking assignment. You can blame Mariota, himself, for one, as the young QB jetted from a pretty clean pocket. But Akeem Ayers simply beat Conklin with speed on the outside for the other.

While those two sacks were costly, it was the third and final sack on Mariota that cost the Titans this game. With 1:55 left in the fourth quarter, the Titans had the ball at their own 25 down four points. On 1st-and-10, Mariota dropped back to pass and the Colts rushed four defenders. Center Ben Jones and fill-in left guard Brian Schwenke had a double-team on nose tackle T.Y. McGill, or rather, they should have. McGill was able to split the two blockers, work his way into the face of Mariota, and strip the ball right from the quarterback’s hands.

Robert Mathis would scoop up the loose ball and take it to the house, putting the Colts up by two scores and sealing the game.

In a game where Tennessee should have been able to bully its opponent on the ground and dominate time of possession, neither happened (their 124 rushing yards was their second-lowest output this season) because the offensive line lost the battle in the trenches.

To spread some of the blame, Mike Mularkey should not be allowing Mariota to drop back and pass 40-plus times, and Mariota’s pocket presence needs to improve dramatically. The Titans pivot had a ton of space to step-up in the pocket and avoid McGill, who was right in his face. Yet, he just stood there, failing to feel the pressure.

Call me crazy, but the Titans are throwing away a golden opportunity. A team that runs the ball this well, ranks in the top-ten for total defense, and plays in a division as bad as the AFC South should not miss out on the playoffs. Pressure is on, fellas.

Cardinals Special Teams

It’s far too easy for me sit here and pick on Chandler Catanzaro for missing a game-winning 24-yard field goal, so I’ll move onto some other special teams members whose blunders were less obvious and much less discussed.

How about Kerwynn Williams, who got bull rushed back into his punter by wide receiver Tanner McEvoy? There was no miscommunication here; Williams’ assignment was straightforward, and he gave up the play of the game, which resulted in Seattle’s kicking the game-tying field goal, their only points during regulation time. Prior to the blocked punt, Seattle had never possessed the ball in Arizona territory.

In this 6-6 OT thriller, the Seahawks got their only points during regulation time thanks to a blocked punt.

The special teams miscues in this 6-6 OT thriller don’t stop there, though. Punter Ryan Quigley also made his share of awful plays. On more than one occasion, Quigley cost the Cardinals a lot of field position, failing to pin the Seahawks deep. Seattle’s inability to perform on offense bailed him out, but had Quigley been able to pin them inside their own ten with just over nine minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals defense could have had a chance to win the game themselves. Instead, Quigley boomed the ball from Seattle’s 44 yard line into the endzone for a touchback, a net punt of 24 yards. It’s not often you can say a punter had the chance to win the game, but if he had done even an adequate job on Sunday, it would be hard to imagine this game ending in a tie.

Back to the field goals for a second, though. You have to throw some blame towards long snapper Aaron Brewer for staying completely bent over for so long after snapping the ball. If he raises up just a little, not only would Bobby Wagner have been penalized for touching him, but he also would have prevented him from getting to his kicker.

I also have to mention Michael Floyd’s horrible drop on third-and-five in overtime. Had Floyd made the catch, it would have been 1st-and-10 from inside the Seattle 15 and the Cardinals may not have had to settle for a field goal.

Seahawks’ Offensive Tackles

By Mike Morris (Flickr)
By Mike Morris (Flickr)

That’s right, I’ve got another bone to pick with the 6-6 tie we had to sit through on Monday night.

Although the Cardinals only recorded one sack in the game, that number does not accurately portray how poor the Seahawks’ tackles played. Russell Wilson was under pressure all night, and if not for his mobility (which is clearly diminished due to injury) the Cardinals would have recorded at least three sacks.

The worst of the bunch was Bradley Sowell, who gave up the lone sack to Chandler Jones. Not only was Sowell awful in pass pro, but he was a big reason the Seahawks couldn’t get the running game going. He also took two penalties: one false start and one hold. Had he not exited early in the fourth quarter with an injury, Jones might have racked up more than one sack.

Sowell’s replacement, George Fant, didn’t play much better. He just had a smaller sample size to make mistakes. Fant’s biggest blunder came right after a Gary Gilliam (right tackle) error. Seattle got the ball with a little over a minute left in the fourth quarte, and were looking to get into field goal position to win the game. After the Seahawks gained 25 yards in two plays and were on the verge of entering Arizona territory, Gilliam took a bad holding penalty (his second of the game), backing Seattle up to its own 38 yard line. On the very next play, an 11-yard gain was negated by a holding penalty on Fant. The two penalties backed Seattle up to their own 28 yard line, killing all momentum and spoiling any chance they had of ending the game before overtime.

The Seahawks’ offensive line struggles aren’t anything new, but Russell Wilson’s bummed lower half is preventing him from masking the issues. While I can’t throw Wilson under the bus for being injured, I will bring up Darrell Bevell’s play-calling in Seattle once again. I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out they should stop asking an injured quarterback to shoulder the load, but this is the same guy who called a passing play a yard from the end zone while Marshawn Lynch was in his backfield.

Tags : Aaron BrewerBen JonesBradley SowellBrian SchwenkeCardinalsChandler CatanzaroClay HarborDamion SquareGary GilliamGeorge FantJack Conklinjeremy maclinKerwynn WilliamsMarcus MariotaMichael FloydMike MularkeyPawns and Black SwansRyan QuigleySeahawksTitans
Tyler "Ty" Worer

The author Tyler "Ty" Worer